Mobliciti hosted part II of their “Legal in Lockdown” strategy discussion with 10 of the original 13 delegates and with an additional two firms providing representation.
The session began with a recap of the previous discussion points, including the success of mass home working, lawyers embracing new technology, the challenges of having to support multiple conferencing platforms and the radical plans of reduction of real estate and the removal of desk phones and printers.
For part II, the focus was on changes to current office environments, the home network and returning to the office.
It began with delegates sharing their thoughts on lockdown:
Where are we?
Discussions began to quickly follow on from where the previous one had left off, with attendees jumping right into what IT had achieved over the past 3 months.
Whilst general perception is that legal can be slow when it comes to embracing IT, the past 3 months have proved that they can adapt. Some went onto to say that their partners who work for large corporates in different industries have struggled far more with home working tools.
This thought was continued by the other attendees, with one IT Director suggesting that they had achieved more in a few months than they had in the last 10 years.
This then developed into a discussion about how to lock in change and the need to do this now.
COVID-19 has forced firms to deliver on things that IT have been pushing for many years and delegates agreed that now is the right time to revisit the list of change projects and use this time to drive change.
The Home-Business Network
Home broadband is a contentious issue, even before COVID-19, many found working from a difficult task. Now, we are at a position where nearly everybody is home, nearly all the time meaning that connectivity issues have increased.
When it comes to firms trying to manage and improve the home network, IT cannot view it to suggest adjustments and so they are having difficulties with users that they simply cannot fix. This is especially applicable to those living in more rural areas, “we have issues with users in Exeter that have no ‘last mile’ connectivity.”
One firm stated that a user was tethering their laptop to their phone to provide a corporate network at home and so used over 500GB in one month.
The debate continued as to whether the home network was even the responsibility of the firm:
The idea of having a dedicated network for business traffic was one suggestion that was well received by delegates, and many will look to deploy should home working become a more permanent fixture.
The agenda once again turned back to the muchly debated topic of video communication software focusing this time on equipment within the office and the increased usage of it.
Regarding equipment within the office, some of the firms discussed removing the expensive meeting room video conferencing equipment. Another mentioned they had paused their meeting room refresh program:
Another firm stated they needed to be prepared for any software requirement:
Many talked of the positives of video conferencing suggesting it was a more ‘balanced’ way of meeting, almost a leveller where people could express themselves better than in an office-based face to face:
Another agreed stating:
However, there was also further thought as to whether meetings will even be going ahead in the near future in dedicated rooms, “it’s unlikely that you’ll have people in meeting rooms with social distancing measures!”
The consensus was that people are now much more comfortable with video communications and it was largely agreed everyone being remote for a meeting was much better than an office-based meeting with some remotely conferenced in.
The Office of the Future
Attendees were asked about their post COVID-19 workforce location strategy and it was mostly unanimous that firms would still have their current office locations but encourage a split between home and office work.
This was corroborated by one firm who surveyed they users and found 80% of staff wanted to continue to work from home with a visit to the office once or twice a week.
On attendee mentioned that, “the vast majority of people are concerned about returning to the office. Especially the travel that is required”
When it comes to, moving back to the office, this must be done in gradual stages to prevent another spike in COVID-19 cases, in one firms’ case “the Senior Partner has asked Hong Kong office to return and the office is now full. Extremely frustrating!”
Is a new plan required?
For many firms, their existing Business Continuity Plan (BCP) is to have a secondary site allowing for staff to work from another location. However, COVID-19 presented a challenge whereby the BCP site could not be used.
Delegates were asked about their future plans for their BCP now that they had dealt with a crisis and not used their BCP back up site.
This crisis has taught firms that an effective BCP doesn’t need to have an alternate location but just have the ability for all users to work from anywhere.
Why pay for a disaster recovery site when staff can work from home?
What we’ve learnt
COVID-19 has been a difficult situation for everyone, but firms have managed to adapt fast, looking to the future – it is about how those positive changes can be locked in.
An IT Director stated that they hoped lawyers wouldn’t ‘snap’ back into old, less productive ‘office-centric’ habits like going to the office to print documents.
So, will these new behaviours become a permanent fixture? Only time will tell if these temporary changes will become our new normal.